Can Justin Jefferson Provide the Spark?

The 'Other' Important Race for Justin Jefferson
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The Vikings return from the bye week and travel to Las Vegas to take on the Raiders. Minnesota should be well rested and buoyed by the return of their superstar wide receiver after a seven-game absence. Can Justin Jefferson provide a spark? The Vikings need him to after back-to-back losses.

Can Justin Jefferson Provide the Spark?

When Jefferson pulled up lame with his hamstring injury against the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Vikings fell to a 1-4 start, Minnesota’s season seemed to be over before it got started — cue an improbable five-game win streak that continued two games after Kirk Cousins got injured and ruled out for the season.

The Vikings moved to 6-4 and suddenly looked like strong playoff candidates despite all of the adversity. Jefferson returned to practice only to be declared questionable and eventually ruled out of the games against the Broncos and Bears.

jefferson provide
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The Vikings lost both games and fell back to .500. Minnesota still sits as the sixth seed in the NFC playoff race, but the healthy cushion they once had evaporated over the weekend. The team that finishes second in the NFC East looks likely to be the fifth seed, but the last two playoff places are now wide open.

The Packers now hold the seventh seed, having joined the Vikings on six wins, while the Rams and Seahawks are out of the playoff places due to tiebreakers. The Buccaneers and Saints are just one game back — it promises to be a tight finish.

The Vikings had a conundrum to solve at QB, with the early excitement from Joshua Dobbs fizzled out. But after the bye, head coach Kevin O’Connell elected for more Dobbs, hoping his rough patch was an outlier.

Can Jefferson Start Fast Again?

Jefferson got off to a blisteringly fast start to the season with 458 receiving yards and a touchdown in the first three games. The great start continued in Carolina with 85 yards and two touchdowns. Jefferson had amassed 36 completions from 53 targets for 571 yards and three touchdowns when he pulled up with his hamstring injury. He looked set to challenge the 2000 receiving-yard season that has never been done before. Now Tyreek Hill is well-placed to beat Jefferson to that particular record. 

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Jefferson’s primary target will be to help his team get back to the playoffs. He got his first taste of it last season, and it was a disappointing experience. The stats are nice, but big game performances in the postseason are what sets the greats apart.

As for personal goals, Jefferson needs 429 yards to reach 1,000 yards and ensure he keeps his record of making that milestone in every season he has played. That requires 85.8 yards per game, which would be a relatively easy feat for a fully fit Jefferson playing with a competent QB. That would be the minimum requirement for Jefferson to be seen as having a successful season on a personal level.

Jefferson had 1,400 receiving yards in his rookie season, his lowest tally to date. To reach that milestone, Jefferson needs 829 yards, which would average out at 165.8 yards per game. If the Vikings wide-out returns in that sort of form, then there’s a good chance Minnesota will be playing playoff football in January. Those sorts of numbers aren’t beyond the talents of Jefferson if the quarterback delivering the ball is up to standard. For the first time in his career, Jefferson won’t have the accurate passing of Cousins and will be dealing with a more erratic passer — whoever is playing. 

Can Jefferson’s skills help elevate the play of the Vikings QB over the remaining five games? That will be in the hope in Minnesota, and if he can, it will further enhance the argument that Jefferson is the best wide receiver in football.